The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday sought to clarify a comment made by one of its top officials that the agency will not necessarily process illegal immigrants referred by Arizona authorities after the state passed a controversial immigration law.
"I think what he was referring to is that within our resources, we have to use discretion and cannot take every referral that comes to us and we will prioritize," said Alonzo Pena, deputy assistant secretary for operations for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Homeland Security Department.
Pena faced fire from the House Homeland Security committee over a comment made by John Morton, assistant secretary of homeland security for the agency, to the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune last week.
"I don't think the Arizona law, or laws like, are the solution," Morton told the newspaper.
The best way to reduce illegal immigration is through a comprehensive federal approach, he said, and not a patchwork of state laws.
The Arizona law, which criminalizes being in the state illegally and requires authorities to check criminal suspects' immigration status, is not "good government," Morton said.
Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, the ranking Republican member of the panel's subcommittee on border, maritime and global counterterrorism, said she was "stunned" by Morton's comments and asked Pena whether there was a directive for illegals not to be deported or processed.
"There is no directive that we will not enforce the law in Arizona," Pena said. "What Mortion was saying is that we have prosecutorial discretion, and with limited resources we have, we're going to prioritize and go after those affecting public safety and security in Arizona."